Eccentric millionaire builds resort at Monte Ne

Posted: November 9, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Courtesy photo The tower on the end of Oklahoma Row hotel still exists and can be seen today. When the hotel was built in 1909, the tower contained the luxury rooms overlooking Coin Harvey's lake. An eccentric millionaire, William "Coin" Harvey came to Rogers in 1900 and bought 320 acres of lush valley just four miles southeast of town to build his Monte Ne resort.

Recent segments on local news channels have rekindled my interest in the lost town of Monte Ne. Local folks who grew up in this area are familiar with the famous resort created by William "Coin" Harvey in the early 1900s. However, there have been thousands of newcomers that might not know the story.

An eccentric millionaire, Coin Harvey came to Rogers in 1900 and bought 320 acres of lush valley just four miles southeast of town. The valley had many springs, including one (Big Spring) that gushed forth 10,000 gallons of cool clear water per minute. Harvey dammed the flow from these springs to form a small lake and built his resort around it. He has been described as a prophet, a great visionary, a genius, a promoter, a flim-flam man, a planner and a schemer. He had an ego that knew no limits. He always aligned himself with the rich and powerful and had an incredible talent for convincing them to invest in his ventures.

He built the Hotel Monte Ne and the first heated swimming pool in Arkansas. He brought the railroad to his resort and built the depot. He imported a genuine gondola and gondolier from Italy for private romantic rides on his man-made lake. This was a tremendous feat, for the gondola had to be brought across the ocean by ship and then by rail to Monte Ne. There was a bowling alley, pool room, large auditorium, fish-stocked lake and the first golf course in Northwest Arkansas.

In 1904, Harvey brought the architect A.O. Clarke from St. Louis to design the rest of his resort. Together they built the Missouri Row hotel, the Bank of Monte Ne, Oklahoma Row hotel and other projects. Without realizing it, bringing Clarke to Rogers was the greatest of all of Harvey's accomplishments -- even though the resort had failed by 1914, Clarke remained and designed most of the major structures in Rogers from his office above the Stroud Mercantile building on Walnut Street. He also designed major buildings all over Benton County and the surrounding area until his death in 1935.

That is a brief overview of Coin Harvey and his fabulous Resort of Monte Ne. Here are a few true tales that folks might not have heard:

GUNFIGHT

The construction of the resort was in full swing in 1905, and Harvey was building two large hotels simultaneously -- the Club House hotel and Missouri Row hotel. To speed construction and keep down costs, the work crews were asked to work longer hours for the same amount of money. This didn't go over very well, and about 30 carpenters and stoneworkers went on strike, causing the infuriated Harvey to fire them.

The leader of the strikers confronted Harvey, and the following is an account of the fight in the May 31, Rogers Democrat. Keep in mind, Harvey was a small, slender, 53-year-old man.

An altercation Saturday afternoon at Monte Ne between W. H. Harvey and W. J. Mallett came as a climax to the trouble Mr. Harvey has been having with the workmen at that place. Several references to Mr. Mallett in the last issue of the Monte Ne Herald were resented by that gentleman, and when he met Mr. Harvey, he demanded to know the author of them. Mr. Harvey assumed all responsibility, whereupon heated words passed between them. Mr. Harvey, who had been deputized as a special constable, was carrying a revolver in his belt. He states that Mr. Mallett struck him, and he attempted to draw the gun in self-defense. Mallett claims he did not strike Mr. Harvey until the latter tried to get the gun ... The gun was knocked to the ground in the ensuing struggle, and the fight ended. Mallett was a huge man, and his blows severely bruised Harvey, who spent several days in bed recovering. Charges were brought against both men, but they appear to have been dismissed later.

The construction of the Club House hotel was abandoned, and all of the available nonstriking workers were used to complete the Missouri Row hotel. The foundation of the Missouri Row hotel is always out of the water at Beaver Lake and can be explored. The remains of the Club House hotel can be seen beside the Monte Ne boat ramp when the water level is low.

WATER FLUME RIDE

Everyone who has been to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., has ridden or seen the "American Plunge," on which the passengers ride a boat shaped like a log down a steep flume and plunge into the pool below. Well, the ride is not an original idea, and Silver Dollar City might have stolen the concept from Coin Harvey.

The following ad ran in the Rogers Democrat on Feb. 2, 1902, promoting Monte Ne:

One of the greatest attractions the Ozark Mountains will possess is being constructed here. It is what is known as "the shooting of the shoots" -- a flume water way carrying a boat and passengers down a heavy grade 600 feet long. It will be one of the novelties of the summer season.

I don't know if the ride was a success or not, as I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else during my research. But I would, personally, pay a lot of money to have been able to witness the spectacle.

LIGHTS OUT

Harvey was a genius and a great promoter, but he was rude and abusive to his employees and guests. A favorite story about Coin Harvey was his insistence on having all of the lights out in Monte Ne by 10 p.m. If guests were partying and having a good time and did not turn out the lights at 10, then Harvey -- who owned and controlled the electric power plant -- would shut off the main switch, throwing the entire resort into darkness. The next morning, the infuriated guests usually packed their bags and left, never to return.

DEATH MASK

Otis McKinney, manager of the Callison Funeral Home on West Walnut Street in Rogers (in 1936), was the funeral director for Harvey's burial. It was bitterly cold when Harvey died, making it difficult to prepare his grave. While the embalmed body waited entombment, McKinney made a death mask (an actual mold of the deceased person's head) of the great man, believing Harvey's features should be preserved. McKinney kept the mask at the funeral home, showing it to friends, but never putting it on display. Harvey's death mask is a remarkable work. Made of plaster of Paris and painted bronze, it captures every wrinkle, every vein and every hair of the man in his final slumber ... Harvey's death mask was the only one he (McKinney) is known to have created.

-- Gaye Bland, 2009,

Rogers Historical Museum web site

Harvey's death mask was donated by Carl McKinney -- brother of Otis McKinney -- and can be seen today at the Rogers Historical Museum.

PYRAMID TREASURE

By 1920, the resort had failed, and Harvey became disillusioned. He thought civilization was doomed, so in 1926, Harvey started his "great pyramid" project. His idea was to build a 140-foot-high concrete obelisk to preserve the history of civilization. The pyramid was to be a time capsule containing all of the inventions and writings of the day. He believed, that sometime in the distant future, mankind would return to Monte Ne, open the pyramid and read about the reasons for the failure of civilization and avoid making the same mistakes.

The knoll he chose to build the structure was on the bank of the lake across from the former train station and just a short walk to his home. At the base of the knoll was Big Spring, that fed the lake. To prepare the foundation for the huge 140-foot-high chunk of concrete, Harvey had extensive site work done. To prevent the erosion of the rock on the north side of the pyramid, an expensive terrace, stadium or foyer, of cement concrete was built.

Harvey put all of his remaining funds into the construction of the amphitheater, and it was finally completed in 1928. The huge amphitheater still exists today under Beaver Lake. It seated 1,000 people and has mysterious rooms and vaults underneath. The amphitheater has always been called the "pyramids" by local folks. Harvey tried to raise funds from donations to build the actual pyramid, but the Great Depression came in 1929, and money was scarce. The actual pyramid was never built.

Even though the "pyramid" was never built, many folks claimed there were artifacts and treasure and even a T-Model Ford encased in secret vaults in the amphitheater. W. T. McWhorter of Rogers owned the amphitheater when it was acquired by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the construction of Beaver Lake. He was going to dynamite the structure in search for the hidden treasures on May 14, 1963, the last day before turning it over to the government. Hundreds of people gathered to witness the event. Thirty minutes before the scheduled explosion, Corps officials stopped the dynamiting, and the "pyramids" are still intact today, however under water most of the time.

McWhorter said, "I am certain there were items buried in a vault ..., I've talked to people who helped seal it up." (Rogers Daily News, May 15 , 1963)

Does the treasure exist? No one knows, but most experts contend artifacts were concealed in the amphitheater but never any real treasure.

SOURCES: The Lost Town of Monte Ne by James Hales; Coin Harvey Prophet of Monte Ne by Lois Snelling; Coin Harvey and His Monte Ne by J.Dickson Black; various stories from the Rogers Democrat, Rogers Daily News and The Morning News.

NAN Our Town on 11/09/2017